by David Frattare
Front-line supervision reminds me of the garbage masher scene in Star Wars when Luke, Han, Chewie and Princess Leia are about to be crushed by two immense steel walls closing in on them from either side. No matter how high they climb up the pile of garbage, the walls continue to close in around them until they are saved at the last minute by R2D2 who shuts down the entire contraption in the nick of time.
That scene got me thinking about an important question front-line supervisors should be asking themselves – who do you turn to for support and guidance when you feel as though you are being crushed from all sides?
When we drafted our mental health and wellness policy a couple of years ago, it was focused on our personnel who were engaged daily in the investigation and prosecution of internet crimes against children and online child sexual abuse. We wanted to provide a resource and an outlet for those individuals who were working the cases, being exposed to the material, or for those who were attending to victims and handling offenders. As a front-line supervisor, and the primary author of the policy at the time, I looked at the issues and experiences of my personnel to guide me in determining what they needed when it came to mental health and wellness. In the process, I forgot about myself.
I didn’t realize how much I needed the mental health and wellness policy until I attended a session with our mental health provider. These yearly one-on-one sessions are mandatory for all full-time ICAC personnel and I wanted to practice what I was preaching and demonstrate to my personnel how important the sessions were. What should have been a one-hour session quickly turned into two and a half hours. The opportunity to talk unabashed about my issues, concerns, thoughts and opinions, without having to worry about the feelings or opinions of the personnel underneath me or my chain of command above, was extremely cathartic. Selfishly, for the first time in almost two decades, I had an opportunity to talk about me; what I felt, what I thought and why I was frustrated. It was two and a half hours of no one complaining, threatening to file a grievance, or having to make a decision. For two and a half hours, our mental health provider listened to me, offered me advice, and provided me resources to be a better co-worker and supervisor.
All mental health and wellness policies must include a counseling component, and our own policy has impressed upon me the importance of having someone I can talk to outside of my professional environment. The ability to engage and communicate with a trained and licensed mental health professional who is not employed by your agency, adheres to confidentiality and understands the demands and pressures of what you do daily is the foundation of any good mental health program.
Being mentally healthy and resilient begins with you! As a supervisor, you are doing a disservice to your people if you have a mental health policy in place and you are not taking advantage of what it has to offer. Amidst the garbage and steel walls of your day, find the time to talk to someone who has your best interest at heart. I think you’ll be surprised at what you hear.
David Frattare is the Director of State Investigations and the Commander of the Ohio ICAC Task Force, part of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office. He is currently assigned to the United States Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force and the Cleveland FBI Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force. Mr. Frattare also serves as a senior chaplain with the International Fellowship of Chaplains.